Kyle Gann: Mystic Chords (2012)

for soundfile (virtual pianos)

Mystic Chords is based on a sonority that Scriabin dubbed the "mystic chord," stacked in fourths and approximating the 1st, 11th, 7th, 5th, 13th, and 9th harmonics of a harmonic series, in that order:

(Actually, Scriabin omits the top G/3rd harmonic, but I need it to ensure smooth voice-leading among chords built on every harmonic.) Mystic Chords builds up a chordal melody by alternating among seven such chords, each built on the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th, or 13th harmonics (purely tuned in just intonation) of a very low F#. The harmonics of F# (transposed by octave into the same two-and-a-half-octave range) are distributed among the seven chords as follows:


The effect of each chord varies in perceived dissonance depending on whether the root, 13th, 9th, and so on is in the bass; thus while the "pitch sets" of all the chords are identical, the level of tension is affected by registral placement, illustrating what an inadequate concept "pitch set" is for composing. In addition, the duration of each chord is indicated by a tempo marking, so that the rhythms, entirely unmetrical and presumably impossible to precisely reproduce by humans, are determined by changing speeds rather than any underlying pulse.

Duration: 6'20"

MP3 recording

PDF score

- Kyle Gann

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